California Supreme Court Holds that Judges can Refuse to Cut Three-Strike Sentences

In a 4-3 decision by the California Supreme Court, it has been held that California judges have broad authority to refuse to shorten the sentences of “three strike” inmates, despite the revisions to the “Three Strikes Law” with Proposition 36. Proposition 36 was first passed in 2012 to allow three-strike offenders to receive sentence reductions if their third offense was neither serious nor violent. The law provided an exception for judges if they believed an inmate to be an “unreasonable risk of danger to public safety.”

However, two years later, Proposition 47 which was passed in 2014, reduced the penalties for a number of drug and property crimes from felonies to misdemeanors. Under that law, inmates can be denied a sentence reduction only if they posed an unreasonable risk of crimes including murder, a sexually violent offense, child molestation, or other crimes punishable by life imprisonment or the death penalty.

Court Opinion

In the case at hand, The People v. Valencia; The People v. Paul Chaney, led by Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye, ruled that the definition of ‘safety risk’ does not apply to three-strikers who have been sentenced to 25 years to life for repeated crimes. In other words, it has become harder for three-strikers to get sentence reductions. It would “result in the release of more recidivist serious and/or violent offenders than had been originally contemplated under Proposition 36,” the opinion says. The Chief Justice also noted in her opinion that Prop. 47 would not affect three-strike prisoners nor amend the resentencing criteria governing the Three Strikes Reform Act, since it only lowered nonviolent felonies to misdemeanors.

This ruling comes as a result of the criminal appeals filed by inmates David J. Valencia and Clifford Paul Chaney, who were both sentenced to 25 years to life under the three-strikes law and both eligible for reduced terms. Valencia’s criminal history included kidnapping, making criminal threats, and beating his wife. Chaney’s record included armed robbery and three convictions for driving under the influence. In Valencia’s case, a judge refused to reduce Valencia’s sentence, calling him a threat to public safety, in particular, to women. Another judge denied Chaney’s resentencing application, concluding he was likely to drive again while intoxicated. Both inmates had argued that the previous judges should have based their decisions on the narrowed definition of ‘safety risk’ after Propositions 36 and 47 have passed.

San Diego Three Strikes and Criminal Defense Lawyer

The Law Offices of David M. Boertje handles all misdemeanor and felony criminal cases including drug charges, violent crimes, and three strikes crimes. We are dedicated to protecting your constitutional rights and freedom, and have successfully represented many defendants, including those with three strikes criminal charges. We will seek a compromise whenever possible to reduce your charges to avoid a three strikes felony on your record. If you have been arrested and charged with a crime, contact attorney David Boertje today for a free consultation.